Oak Leaf Chardonnay

Country: USA
Region: California
Thoughts: I must admit I had a reason for buying this wine. (The lack of a vintage year should tell it's of lesser quality.) The cynic in me was crying for blood. I was tired of being a nice guy with these wines; sure, I've been as forthright as I could have been with you. Most have been decent, some exceptional, a few just sucked. But I was looking for a wine that I knew was going to suck, just so I could tear it to shreds; you know, let out the inner Philly in me. So I picked up this treasure, a $3 special (yes, really, $3) from Wal-Mart. If any wine was doomed to fail, it was this one. Unfortunately, the wine below beat me to the punch. I used all my bullets there, for I've never had a worse wine in my life. The Oak Leaf was no winner by any means; the bouquet was reminiscent of old, funky ice cubes; the taste was muted fruitiness at first, but quickly turned weird and unpalatable. After my third sip, I was done. For two sips anyway, it outclassed the "award-winning" Montes - which probably says more about the Montes than it does the Oak Leaf.
Do-over? I can't envision a scenario in which I'm that desperate
Final Grade: D-

Montes Sauvignon Blanc '06

Country: Chile
Thoughts: It may be a little hard to tell on that small pic, but the top right portion of the label has a drawing of three gold medals for, in order from top to bottom: Aurelio Montes, Wine Personality of the Year, 2002 (from the Chilean Agricultural Society); Montes, Winery of the Year, 2002 (from Wine & Spirits); Montes, New World Winery of the Year, 2002 (from Wine Enthusiast). Apparently an awful lot can happen in four years. This wine got off on the wrong foot; to say it never recovered would be inaccurate - instead, it simply dug itself a deeper hole. The bouquet can be described in one word: Hank. As in Hank the cat, who just came meandering into the room as if on cue. Hank and a handful of coffee. You know, that whole cat piss thing - except Hank's litterbox smells a tad more attractive. I know that's a hazard of dealing with sauvignon blanc; but most other wines I've had managed to keep it in proportion. This did not. The exact line from my notes: "Bouquet: HANK. Dammit this had better taste good." Again, fail; miserable, excruciating failure. The taste was bitter and astringent, such that the next line of my notes read: "Finish: Who cares?" The last line of notes - saved for other comments - read thusly: "All the acidity of OJ w/ a back taste of, well, pine needles. WTF were all those medals for? BAIL" With my wife in agreement, we fed the remainder of the full bottle to the Alexandria Department of Public Works, though the Department of Risk Management may have been better equipped to deal with this monstrosity.
Do-over? Are you outta your damn mind?
Final Grade: F


Dr. Thanisch Riesling '05

Country: Germany
Thoughts: First, it's been a busy week, so I've had precious little time to get to the wines that await me; my apologies for that. Second, since I've already tried out wines from my home area, it was high time to give a ride from the land of my ancestors. Third, I'm happy to report that Dr. Thanisch's wine isn't nearly the disaster that the Cup race turned out to be. (I'm typing this at 11:53 EST, while NASCAR - in Fontana, Calif. - is pondering whether to resume an oft-delayed race. From the time the pic was taken, they only completed 55 more laps before the rains came yet again.) Right, the wine. I'm finding that rieslings aren't much my cup of tea; they're nice as a changeup, but I'm finding it hard to just sit and enjoy one, not like the pinot grigios or even the sauvignon blancs. This was no different. For a riesling, it was decent: The taste was typically sweet but hardly over the top. A second glass wouldn't have been difficult to stomach, though I opted for dessert instead. The front and back ends weren't very notable, however. I detected a slight whiff of honey, but mostly it was like trying to find the nose in a glass of water. On the finish, the sweetness just kind of faded to nothing. Maybe there's a riesling out there that will get me excited to write about; this wasn't one of them, though it was good for what it was.
Do-over? I think I'll be sticking mostly to the dryer whites
Final Grade: B-


Sobon Estate Sauvignon Blanc '06

Country: USA
Region: California (Plymouth)
Thoughts: Thanks to my wife, first off, for holding the wine near some pending legislation; however, she asked me not to reveal what exactly it is you're looking at. Anyway, on with it: This was recommended during our last trip to Total Wine; the price was right, so we took a chance. There was that typical earthy sauvignon blanc bouquet, but with a notable addition: coffee. It wasn't that entrancing aroma that draws you back to a certain aisle in the supermarket, but the smell was definitely there. The taste, at first, was a tad disappointing; it too was earthy and lightly sweet, but there was a muted quality to it. The crisp, spicy finish made up for it a bit, though it was hardly to the caliber of La Baronne. Still, it was quite a departure from the initial sip. In subsequent tastes, the finish wasn't quite as strong - as one might expect - but it held up through the entire glass.
Do-over? Yes, especially since my wife really seemed to enjoy her quick taste
Final Grade: B


Galen Glen Vidal Blanc (UPDATED)

Country: USA
Region: Pennsylvania
Thoughts: I really like this photo and the one below it; the wine is from near my hometown (it's made in Andreas), while the background is a sign from my wife's hometown in Oregon. I wanted to put this up here because I did try it; but honestly, I couldn't get a read on the flavor at all. I don't know if the sweetness of the Winter Mountain doomed my tastebuds or what, but I just couldn't discern anything worthwhile from the taste. The nose was mostly citrus - and mostly grapefruit at that - but beyond that, I really have nothing of value in my notes. So I'll give this a second go-around in the next few days and edit this post once I can make some sort of determination.
Thoughts (part 2): I tried it again earlier tonight, this time without having any food or drink on my tongue. It reminded me of the pinot grigios I've had, but without a range of flavors. Like there was one flavor, one you'd typically find in a pinot grigio, but that was it: orange. With a pinot, I have trouble sorting through all the notes; with this, all I could think of was that damn Discover commercial, where the glowing orange ball bounces down the street, attracting smiles from attractive ladies and getting splashed by the corner grocer. At least the ending was true to the beginning, as there was plenty of orange there too. It had a nice balance overall, but like the Winter Mountain, left me wanting more. I wound up having two glasses and, by the end, I was ready for something fresh.
Do-over? I can't see it happening
Final Grade: C-

Galen Glen Winter Mountain Wine

Country: USA
Region: Pennsylvania
Thoughts: The first of four wines from the vineyard nearest my hometown; my region and my wife's region are represented in the pic. Some research shows that this wine is made mostly with the cayuga, a grape developed at Cornell and used mostly by east-coast wineries. I was taken by how light the wine was; obviously, drinking what I do, there's variation between straw and light straw. Even so, this came as close to looking like water as I've seen. A few sniffs revealed nothing terribly special; it wasn't really floral but wasn't a turn-off, either. The taste was sweet and drinkable, yet I couldn't help but feel there should have been something more. It didn't take me anywhere; it was just kind of, well, there. A fleeting hint of spiciness came with the finish, but was unnoticeable beyond the first sip. In all honesty, it was better than I was expecting; no one will confuse the Lehigh Valley with Napa, the Columbia Valley or the Willamette Valley. Yet it still hurts that I can't rate it higher; I want the folks at Galen Glen to know that I appreciate what they're doing and where they're doing it. Can it stand up to La Baronne and Laforet and Evolution? No. I guess, in the end, I'll have to be satisfied knowing the folks near my hometown put out a very drinkable wine.
Do-over? Yes, for hometown pride and a good combination of price and drinkability
Final Grade: C+


Anakena Sauvignon Blanc '07

Country: Chile
Thoughts: Not long ago, I took a look at Anakena Chardonnay, and there's a reason why we have the sauvignon blanc, too. We usually do our big wine shopping on Saturdays; that happens to be the day that our local Total Wine does its tastings. They'll have a few samples of reds and whites available; you get a coupon if you pick up one of the sampled offerings. My wife and I both liked the Anakena offerings - chard and sauv blanc - so we got a bottle of each. If I remember right, I liked the chard (but, looking back at the grade, I guess I didn't like it that much). On this one, the wine's nose caught me off guard: no real smell of earthiness, no real smell of cat piss either (thankfully). But it wasn't a completely sweet smell, either. The taste followed suit: The wine did come across sweeter than I expected but was also surprisingly tart. My problem with this was - much like the Conundrum, the taste didn't hold off. Even with a readjusted palette, it didn't take but a few sips before it just felt flat and a little watery. Occasionally I'd get a glimpse of something on the middle of my tongue, but the wine held little value for the tip of the tongue.
Do-over? Doubtful for me, anyway, since my wife seemed to like it
Final Grade: C+

Conundrum White Table Wine '05

Country: USA
Region: California
Thoughts: You'll remember back when I reviewed Evolution 11 that I referenced Dr. Z was quite displeased with Susan Sokol. Instead, he recommended Conundrum, whose winemaker was, he assured, nicer than Ms. Sokol. That may be true, but I didn't find the wine particularly compelling. There was a noticeable honeyness to the bouquet along with the requisite fruitiness. I had just come from several bites of delicious dirt dessert, so it took some time for the taste buds to reacclimate. The first sip came across as big and bold - which one might expect - but the boldness didn't hold. Initially, the finish was dry with a nice fadeout, but that too disappeared soon after. It was decent in its own right, I suppose, but it failed to grab me. And given how I've enjoyed the blended whites that I've had, I found that most disappointing. Head to head with Evolution, it's not a contest. Evolution is a better wine and seven bucks cheaper, too.
Ingredients: The mix is proprietary, but this vintage included sauvignon blanc, muscat, viognier and chardonnay
Do-over? Not when Evolution is better and cheaper
Final Grade: C


Georges Debouef Chardonnay '05

Country: France
Thoughts: In my mind, the worst description I can give a wine is that it gave me what I expected. I've said previously that that is not my goal, unless a certain wine will be a baseline for future tastings. Failing to meet that criterion, Debouef gets a low grade from me, because it's exactly what I expected from a chardonnay: a hint of fruitiness, occasional signs of butter and that telltale dryness you get from chards. The only thing saving it from a lower grade was the bouquet, which hinted at better things that the taste did not deliver. The nose was fresh, almost flowery, which hints of fruitiness and vanilla. It is worth noting that the bottle did sit in our wine rack for some time; perhaps I'll get a more fresh tasting at some point down the line. But for now, this wine sits in the lower half of the class.
Do-over? Not when Laforet is available
Final Grade: C+

Spy Valley Sauvignon Blanc '06

Country: New Zealand
Thoughts: Spy Valley, along with several of the other wines I've gone through lately, were the result of a trip to Total Wine. There I spent several minutes culling through the white wine areas looking for those that came with a decent rating (85 or better from Wine Spectator or someone else) and could be had for a decent price ($20 or less). Occasionally I find my tastes out of tune with the experts, but this was not one of them. Spy Valley started with a bouquet sweeter than you'd expect from a sauv blanc; there seemed to be some plum noticeable in there along with other fruitiness. On the tongue, the wine was mellow and smooth; yet another part of it reminded me of a term I've heard to describe certain stouts - chewy. It made headway on the back of the tongue, which can't be said for many of the wines I've tried. The finish was dry and it faded quickly, which might make me more upset in a lesser wine. But I found this one to be well balanced, one that ranks high on the oft-mentioned (but highly unscientific) sipping scale.
Do-over? I'd have no problem with it
Final Grade: B+


Nobilo Sauvignon Blanc '07

Country: New Zealand
Thoughts: I was thinking a few days ago that the only time Grace the cat made an appearance here, the lighting was too low and it was tough to see her. So she's back in a much, much better shot. If she looks pissed, it's because I was getting toward my time limit of how long she was going to put up with me holding a chilled bottle of wine near her head. Anyway, on with it: The Nobilo was a gift from our friend Donna, who popped by last evening for a night of chatting. The bouquet was simply overwhelming; I caught the faintest whiff of the wine while my nose was six inches from the glass - at an angle, no less. It was earthy, as one might expect from a sauv blanc, but no balance and completely overwhelming. The taste was also what you'd expect: spicy, though I definitely caught a hint of some herbs. It really popped on the tongue, almost hot at various points and various places on the palette. The finish was much more subdued. On the whole, I found it to be a fine sipping wine, but one that was done in by such an unwieldy bouquet. It's hard to give a good rating to a wine that bombards you every time you stick your nose in the glass.
Do-over? As long as it's with a set of clothespins
Final Grade: B-

More enhancements

My grand plan for the evening is to add a new wine here and a post over at the old homestead.

I also plan to update my past selections with - duh - the actual winemakers. I'm not certain why this never occurred to me before. But rest assured that, hopefully, by the time you read this, the task will have been completed. However, I'll only edit the entries whose winemakers aren't already a part of the name. For example, Evolution 11 will now reflect that it's made by Sokol Blosser; but since Waterbrook Chardonnay is made by the Waterbrook Winery, I'll leave that as it is.

The winemakers themselves should share the acclaim for a good grade or the blame for a bad grade.

Falanghina Dei Feudi Di San Gregorio '06

Country: Italy
Thoughts: Just like the Waterbrook below, I found the nose to be very muted; that got me wondering if my sniffer was on the fritz. Maybe so, but this wine more than made up for it on the first sip. I was blown away with fruity flavor and spiciness - there's a "Wow!" in my notes. It's like this wine grabbed your attention and held it; within a few seconds, I'd forgotten that I hadn't gotten much information from the bouquet. By itself, the finish was nothing to write home about; but this wine made it clear that taste was what mattered, not anything before or after. The fruitiness and the spiciness had a nice balance, and I had a feeling of structure to this wine. What's more, this wine seemed to go great with the post-dinner Don Diego I enjoyed. Despite the strength of a cigar, this wine held up but never was overpowering.
Do-over? Uh, yeah
Final Grade: A-

Waterbrook Chardonnay '05

Country: USA
Region: Columbia Valley, Wash.
Thoughts: Whaddya know, two straight from the fine state of Washington (I'm certain my wife would like to remind, dear reader, to cheer for those Huskies). This one, however, did not live up to the expectations of the one below. The bouquet was virtually non-existent; there was some fruitiness, but it was barely noticeable - even after a few swirls of the glass. The taste was fruity enough, though I don't recall it being to the level of, Wow! (In my notes, I had "... only had 1 FF" but damned if I can remember what FF stood for...) In all, it was slightly better than I was hoping for. The dreaded buttery flavor reared its head from time to time, but usually only after I'd had a bite of steak. It's serviceable, but little more.
Do-over? Hard to find a reason to justify it
Final Grade: B-

Gordon Brothers Sauvignon Blanc '06

Country: USA
Region: Columbia Valley, Wash.
Thoughts: I'm glad this wine met the standards of the guy helping us out at Total Wine. This was one of the few wines he praised, and now I understand why. The nose was largely earthy with a hint of fruitiness, though I'm happy to report there was no hint of cat piss anywhere! (I had cleaned out Hank's litterbox - this guy here - earlier in the day, so this was a pleasant development.) The flavor was a lot sweeter than I'd expected; there was some dryness but it was mostly smooth and fruity - a nice change from the previous sauvignon blancs I've had. At first, the finish was explosive, almost like the La Baronne; but in time, it mellowed, making it a smooth, drinkable wine. Really, this was the only note I had that mattered: I'll have another.
Do-over? For the high quality and low price, this is a no-brainer
Final Grade: B+


Maso Canali Pinot Grigio '06

Country: Italy
Thoughts: Maso Canali came to my attention thanks to a comment left on the Santa Margherita review. Less expensive, more aromas, more character, the poster said. And I'm happy to report they were write on all counts. The aromas were plentiful; as a whole, it was fresh and sweet. Even my inexperienced sniffer could pick out the orange notes. When I took a sip, it felt like I was drinking from a fermented orange; that may sound like the coldest of slams, but I don't mean it that way. The orange flavor was subtle but definitely noticeable; the citrus was there pretty cleanly too. I couldn't get out of my mind that the wine had a certain, firm structure to it, whereas the Santa Margherita was just there. Cripes I feel incompetent when I can't describe this stuff. Just trust me, the wine was damn good. (And a hearty thanks to whoever recommended it.)
Do-over? Without a doubt
Final Grade: A-


Quick note

Added blends as a label. I also went back and added another line in each of the blended entries indicating the ingredients (as specifically as they could be determined, if they could be determined at all).

Given how much I've enjoyed the blends I've had, I felt it was appropriate to give them their own category and not lump them in with the other whites.

Anakena Chardonnay '07

Country: Chile
Thoughts: As I put more distance between myself and the Simi chard, I'm less and less hesitant to pull the trigger on trying a new one. Plus this was from Chile (my 16th import), so I was hopeful from the start. The nose was a source of consternation, though. I took like 10 whiffs and still couldn't figure out what the hell I was smelling. After four tries, I formulated two ideas - "wet dog" and "Hawaiian Tropic" - but neither came close to being a full descriptor. So I leaned on my wife, the wine expert of the family, and she settled on "orange blossoms" and "honey." (The latter left me a bit confused, as I thought she was calling me.) The taste belied the bouquet - in my mind anyway - and the citrus fruitiness really came through. It finished dry and slightly puckery; though that may have just been me, as I was coming off of dessert 20 minutes earlier. Despite the great start, the fruitiness wasn't sustained, and my puckering became more and more pronounced. That was a big downer, especially since the wine had started off so well.
Do-over? Maybe
Final Grade: B-

Yard Dog '05

Country: Australia
Winemaker: Redheads Studio
Thoughts: This was a gift from my very cool brother-in-law Mark and his wife Maya at Christmastime. Turns out it's a blended with white with three ingredients, including chardonnay and gewurztraminer. Given my past positive experiences with blends (like Evolution), I was pretty excited and it didn't disappoint. The nose was light with hints of melon and earthiness. The citrus (and particularly the orange) really came through in the taste; it went down smooth and moderately dry with a crisp finish. Really, it's just a pretty decent sipping wine. And when you get down to it, what more do you really want?
Ingredients: Chardonnay (77 percent), semillon (14) and gewurztraminer (9)
Do-over? Why not?
Final Grade: B

A change in the ranking system (UPDATED)

I was so blown away by La Baronne that I felt like I needed to add a new category. It really wasn't in the same category as Laforet or even Evolution.

As a result, I've added a final grade of A+. The catch is that there will only ever be one wine that grades that high. If I come across a wine I find better than La Baronne, it will get knocked back to an "A" grade.

So, for now, La Baronne is your champion.

The quest now is to find someone up to the challenge of knocking it off...

EDIT to add this: Silly me last night for failing to thank our cool-as-hell bartenders at Clyde's last night, who were kind enough to let me snap pics of the bottles. They insisted I wasn't being a pain in the ass, but I wanted to thank them anyway.

Veramonte Sauvignon Blanc '06

Country: Chile
Thoughts: In keeping with the theme of new regions, we welcome our first Chilean wine to the blog. But a discussion broke out over just what the nose represented. Opinions ranged from crab apples to grapefruit to cat piss (I'll admit my view was the latter). I guess I lost out, however, since it tasted like grapefruit (though I'll happily admit to not knowing what cat piss tastes like). As usual, it was quite crisp, but I was struck by the fact that I kept reaching for the glass. Sometimes it's a chore to do so, but this was strangely addicting. I found myself a little sad when it was gone.
Do-over? Sure
Final Grade: B+

Naked Chardonnay '05

Country: USA
Region: California (Paso Robles)
Winemaker: Four Vines Winery
Thoughts: OK, OK, I admit it. I was intrigued by the name. But not for the reasons you might imagine (well, maybe a tad). I was still stung by bad experience with the Simi chardonnay, but I figured with a "naked" version I would have no such difficulties. Indeed, I wasn't disappointed. The nose was crisp and refreshing - fruity, not dry - and I wondered to myself: This is chardonnay? I just have to remember that chardonnay can be well done, though the buttery scars from the Simi won't be undone anytime soon. The taste was spicy and crisp but clear and quite good. I was a little puckery after the first sip but got better through the glass. There was little to no finish, which made for a bit of a downer. All in all, not bad. My faith in chardonnay grows, ever so slightly.
Do-over? I'd have no problem with it
Final Grade: B


Yalumba Y Series Viognier '06

Country: Australia
Thoughts: Finally, Down Under is represented. After BLT, my wife and I headed to a local watering hole where I decided I was going to sample the wine offerings. First up was a sip from my wife's order, a viognier. The nose seemed to be an even split between fruity and smoky. The taste was fairly standard, sweet yet considerably dry. "Fat" was the best way I could describe it. The finish was moderately successful; I caught a bit of flavor I didn't notice while swirling it around the palette. Looking for a word to sum it up? OK. Is that even a word or just two letters?
Do-over? Eh, perhaps
Final Grade: B-

La Baronne '05

Country: France
Winemaker: Famille Lignères
Thoughts: Because of the low light at BLT Steak, I wasn't able to take a photo of the bottle itself. But our waiter was kind enough to save the label for me and tape it on one of their postcards. (Plus this gives me a chance to show off the new monitor I got for my birthday, a 22-inch LG LCD.) At any rate, this wine was simply phenomenal - enough that a new ratings system was devised because of it (and, thus, my secret is revealed). The bouquet was difficult to describe; it smelled, for lack of a better term, sparkly. It was fragrant like fresh flowers, but that didn't seem to sum it up quite right - at least not in one word. The taste was mellow; it was like there was untold fruitiness just bubbling below the surface. On the finish, that pent up energy was released like an explosion. The vibrant fruitiness could no longer be contained. Just superb from start to finish.
Ingredients: Vermentino, grenache blanc, grenache gris
Do-over? Absolutely, no matter the price
Final Grade: A+


The Chateau Montet review has been completed, just in case you didn't notice. Standalone version here.

I've had enough recommendations that I've taken you guys up on them. Thanks to the anonymous poster who recommended Maso Canali. We picked it up at Total Wine today and it's in our tasting queue.

Thanks, as always, to my brother-in-law Mark, a sometime commenter here. He offered a few suggestions back on the second wine we ever reviewed. We did our best at Total Wine but came up short in all three: I'm not certain they had L'Ecole; they had Stag's Leap, but not the viognier; and Benzinger was in plentiful supply.

We asked one of the guys for help.

"Where did you get these from?" he asked.

"My brother-in-law in Idaho," I told him.

"Ahh," he said, adding that he didn't think Idahoans were able to get their hands on much good wine. So he went through our choices, all 12 of them. He brushed by some, mocked others ("Pink pinot grigio? That's a girlie wine") and praised a handful as good choices.

Only a few were repeats: the aforementioned pink pinot grigio (hey, I'm secure in my manhood) as well as a bottle of Evolution.

The bottom line, then, is that we've got enough wine to keep us busy. Plus we get some bonus tries tonight when we go out for an early birthday dinner at BLT Steak. Should be fun!